China factory PMI raises doubts about economy’s strength

Tue Apr 30, 2013 11:41pm EDT

BEIJING (Reuters) – Growth in China’s manufacturing sector unexpectedly slowed in April as new export orders fell, raising fresh doubts about the strength of the economy after a disappointing first quarter.

The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 50.6 in April from an 11-month high in March of 50.9. Analysts had expected the April PMI to be 51.0.

The pull back on the official PMI mirrored a similar decline in a preliminary HSBC PMI last week, suggesting China’s exports engine faces headwinds from the euro zone recession and sluggish growth in the United States.

China’s new government has signaled it will step up infrastructure investment, which analysts said will provide support for the economy in the second quarter.

“Overall, my general feel is that China is growing but slower than people expected say a month ago,” said Alvin Pontoh, economist at TDSecurities in Singapore.

“But I don’t think this is reason for alarm… this is probably what the new administration is looking for. Structurally, China cannot grow at 9 or 10 percent any more, so over the next few years, you’d reasonably expect growth to edge lower to say 7 percent or so”.

A string of global data, including lower than expected U.S. economic growth figures, has dented optimism seen at the start of the year that the world economy was picking up.

Market reaction to the PMI was muted as many countries in Asia and Europe are marking May 1 Labor Day holiday. China’s markets are closed and will reopen on Thursday.

Benchmark three-month copper slipped and weighed on mining stocks in Australia following the PMI figures. The Australian and New Zealand dollars held their ground.

The official PMI figures showed a new orders sub-index fell to 51.7 in April from 52.3 in March, holding above 50 which separates expansion from contraction compared with a month earlier. However, the new export orders index fell to 48.6 from 50.9 in March, suggesting they were shrinking.

The input price sub index fell to 40.1 in April, its lowest in at least four years.

“The dip in April PMI shows that the foundation for China’s economic recovery is still not solid,” Zhang Liqun, an economist at the Development Research Centre, a top government think tank in Beijing, said in an emailed statement accompanying the index.

“All these show the possibility for China’s growth to slow slightly in the future. We must work to stabilize domestic demand and make our economic recovery more sustainable,” he said.

HSBC’s preliminary PMI for April fell to 50.5 from 51.6 in March as new export orders shrank. The final reading is scheduled to be published on Thursday.


The latest PMI adds risks to market expectations that China’s annual economic expansion will pick up to 8.0 percent in the April-June quarter after it slipped in January to March to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in the previous quarter.

Zhiwei Zhang, a China economist at Nomura, said in a client note before the PMI figures that he expects growth to ease again in the second quarter to 7.5 percent.

Apart from expectations of more infrastructure investment, the central bank will hold rates steady throughout 2013, as it needs to tread a delicate balance between inflation and growth, a Reuters poll showed.

“We still expect major activity indicators to show a moderate growth recovery in April and 2Q. On policies, we expect overall monetary and fiscal policies to remain accommodative, though we see no need for significant stimulus,” said Ting Lu, a Hong-Kong-based China economist from Bank of America Merril Lynch, in a note to clients.

Beijing is targeting 2013 growth of 7.5 percent, lower than the double digit levels of most of the past three decades as it tries to shift the economy to reduce reliance on exports and more towards consumption.

Still, the recovery from seven-straight quarters of a slowdown through the third quarter of 2012 has been uneven so far. Growth picked up in the fourth quarter but then slipped in the first quarter of this year despite a credit boom in January through March.

China’s debt-ridden local governments used new lending to repay existing loans instead of channeling the money into new investment, analysts said.

The government has promised to heighten scrutiny of local government financing vehicles, wealth management products and the country’s fledgling bond market.

The politburo, the top decision-making body, said in a meeting last week China would speed up the establishment of a regulatory system for local government debt financing while strengthening oversight on potential financial risks.

Shadow banking, a main driver of a credit surge in recent months, has provided a lifeline though to property funding, fuelling unwelcome housing inflation.

New home prices jumped 3.6 percent in March from a year ago, a third straight monthly increase despite an intensified government tightening campaign during the past three years.

(Reporting by Langi Chiang and Jonathan Standing; Editing by Neil Fullick)

Best Places to Launch: 5 Factors to Consider

When it comes to start-up friendly cities, San Francisco’s got nothing on… Tulsa, Oklahoma?

On Monday, the personal finance website NerdWallet published a list of its highest-ranked cities for young entrepreneurs. According to the site, the best places for cash-strapped founders are located well off the traditional start-up path–Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley were conspicuously absent from the list.

According to vice president of NerdWallet Stephanie Wei, this is because young entrepreneurs have a different set of criteria when evaluating a good launch pad. But before packing your bags for Tampa, Florida or Omaha, Nebraska, here are a few things to consider about what makes a city great for first-time founders.

Cost of living.

Young is often code for broke. And cost of living is where some of the big cities fall short, Wei explains.

“Young people need to make their dollars stretch. [They] need a rent that isn’t taking up half [their] paycheck,” she says.

Sure enough, the median rent in New York City reached an all-time high this year of $3,418 a month–no small chunk of change for a bootstrapping founder. But what young entrepreneurs sacrifice in rent money, they may make up for in cultural benefits at an established hub, says Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland.

She advises prioritizing hubs where you can find experienced entrepreneurs in a similar industry above a desire for cheap rent.

Availability of capital.

Angel investors are hard to find, and pursuing venture capital can be both tempting and impractical, according to Wei. Young entrepreneurs may hope to become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey, but in the process they may overlook some of the easier, more traditional ways to get funds in the process.  She explains that the NerdWallet rankings were based on an availability of “boring capital” like small business loans, and the underlying economy of a city including its historical record of sustaining growth.

Fine acknowledges that angel funding and venture capital can create a glamour trap for some young entrepreneurs, but she also recognizes that acquiring business loans as an inexperienced entrepreneur can be tough. Instead, she urges aspiring founders to do what they do best: Think outside the box.

“People often overlook grants because they feel so governmental and bureaucratic, but there are a number of government incentives for starting a business… [Entrepreneurs] just have to spend the time and do their research,” she says.

Education, education, education.

Another important resource for aspiring founders is the accessibility of educational tools. In Fine’s opinion, that means looking to cities like Boston, Massachusetts or Washington, D.C. which have strong existing academic communities for entrepreneurs to draw from.

Wei looks at the term “education” more liberally. NerdWallet ranked its cities based not only on their proximity to established universities–but on the overall education and income levels of their residents. Nearly 50 percent of the population in Raleigh, North Carolina, for example–No. 3 on NerdWallet’s list–hold a bachelor degree. Wei explains that by examining the educational standards in a community, entrepreneurs can gain a sense of each location’s value system.

“Highly educated people… and a good median income… are a good sign,” she says.

A diverse network of peers.

On one thing, the experts agree: You really are as good as the company you keep. So surrounding yourself–and your growing company–with peers and mentors in your field is a must. The No. 1 thing for young entrepreneurs to look for when picking a city for their new venture is a strong sector focus, Fine explains.

She says young founders need to ask themselves: “Does [the city] have critical mass in one or multiple sectors? Does it have both young and seasoned entrepreneurs?” Having a diverse community of peers doesn’t just mean surrounding yourself with other 20-somethings or founders of similar socioeconomic status, Fine says. You should be looking for a strong community from which to draw mentorship, as well.

“Look for people who have succeeded and who have failed,” she advises. “People who have learned from messing up–and are willing to talk honestly about that–are great to talk to.”

Take it all with a grain of salt.

In reality, the most important factor in choosing a location is the overall ecosystem, says Fine. And that can be very hard to measure. She explains that while rankings are helpful, they should also be looked at with a critical eye as they are frequently based on relatively few factors.

“I’m not sure if I’d pick up and move somewhere based on what a magazine told me,” she says. Instead, she’d go about it the old-fashioned way: by putting her feet on the ground and talking to the investors and entrepreneurs who actually make up the community.

The Way I Work: Zulily’s Darrell Cavens

Half of Darrell Cavens’s 700 employees have been with Zulily for less than a year. And a year from now, the same dynamic will probably be in place–though who knows what the head count will be at a company that at presstime had 160 open positions? Managing growth is the defining challenge at Zulily, a daily-deals site for moms and kids. Membership is up to 10 million, and though the company won’t talk about revenue, a recent round of funding ($85 million, led by Andreessen Horowitz) valued it at more than $1 billion. Those 700 employees are spread out among the Seattle headquarters and offices in London; Reno, Nevada; and Columbus, Ohio. Cavens, a 40-year-old father of two, founded the company in 2009 with Mark Vadon, his former boss at the online diamond seller Blue Nile. 

We talk a lot about scratching out mediocrity. Zulily can’t be good enough. It’s got to be great. We’re publishing a new version of the site every single day. It can’t be just another Tuesday. And that means a lot of volume and interesting editorial curation. We host 50 new events a day. That means adopting about 6,000 new SKUs online daily. A typical Costco store has about 4,000 SKUs. If we put the same product up, people wouldn’t come back–that daily newness drives the business. When people think about e-commerce, they don’t realize the complexity of what happens behind the scenes. We have 35 photo studios and do shoots seven days a week.

I get up at 6 a.m. religiously, because that’s when my phone notifies me about the Zulily sale, which launches every day at 6 a.m. Pacific Time. Part of my night routine is to look at a preview of what the site’s going to look like the next day–so the very first thing I do is pull up the site on my phone to make sure they match.

Culturally, our mindset is to go fast and try things. And that means occasionally tripping up. The worst thing to do when we have a site outage is for me to go stand behind the developer and say, “Fix this now!” All that guarantees is that the person will never move fast again, because he will make sure that every i is dotted and t is crossed. Instead, we actually try to celebrate those outages and learn from them.

Once I know the site is fine, I’ll get ready and then go downstairs to have breakfast with my family. I met my wife, Siobhan, when I was at Blue Nile. She was a program manager at Microsoft when I started Zulily, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to have dueling laptops across the table after the kids had gone to bed, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. She left her job two years ago to stay home with our kids, which gives us a little more balance. It was insane for a while.

I try to get to the office by 8:30 a.m. and won’t start any internal meetings until 9. That gives me time to check emails and get ready for the day. I get an hourly metrics email: sales, top events, shipments, inbound receipts, what’s being received in the facility, usage of coupon discount codes. I look at sales and compare that number to the sales on that same day for the prior month and then use that as a prediction of what we think sales will be for the day. We try to make sure we have enough inventory, but product does sell out, sometimes as early as 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m.

I’ve given up on trying to stay current with email. Now I focus on not letting it run my life. Marcia Cardona, my executive assistant, prints out important emails and says, “Don’t forget this.” It’s the first time I’ve given somebody full access to email–and it’s been a huge help. Marcia also helps manage my calendar and books all my travel. And she also knows that at about 2:30, I like a double tall skinny vanilla latte, which magically appears wherever I am.

Six months into the business, we got one of those Starbucks coffee machines here in the office. If I had realized the morale boost that would come from having a free coffee machine in the office, I would have got it Day One. It’s almost more exciting than medical benefits. We have one on every floor now.

This is our fifth office since we started–we moved here 18 months ago with 200 employees. Now, with 600 here in Seattle, it’s getting tight. Plus, we’ve got about 160 open positions. More than half the company has joined in the past year. We’re going to move everybody again in the fall. The new building is three times the size of the current one. We have two full-time facilities people that oversee these moves. Two things draw the most anxiety from employees: their paycheck and their seat. Don’t screw up either. And if you can solve both, a lot of other anxiety falls away.

You hear all the doom-and-gloom unemployment metrics, but we’ve got challenges finding enough great people. We have about 20 recruiters on staff–I spend a lot of time working with them. Last week I probably interviewed seven people. For the first 18 months, I interviewed everyone. As we’ve grown, it’s not possible. But I still interview all the key hires. And I still approve all offers. I don’t get a chance to meet everyone just because of the numbers, but I’m involved in the process.

Once a month, I spend an hour or more on Monday morning with a new-hire group. Each executive team member, myself included, adopts a class, which can range from three to 20 people. I’ll spend the morning going through the culture deck and the history of the business. I’ll then meet with the same group 30, 60, and 90 days later to hear their feedback about their experience with the company thus far. I’m specifically interested in how people are acclimating, since we’re growing so quickly.

One of the biggest complaints we kept hearing was, “You say go talk to Sally, but I don’t know who Sally is.” We used to just send people to the wall, which has employee photos ordered by start date. But then it got overwhelming, so an engineer put it online. We call it Zucrew.

That’s the extent of our company’s intranet. I’ve been talking to CEOs about what they’re using, trying to see if there’s a magical answer. I’ve yet to find one. So we recently asked one of our engineers to work on figuring out the best way for people to connect inside the company. So if you’re in the studio, and the copy team needs to know what’s going on, how would it find out? Another issue is that we’ve gone from one to four offices in the past year, so how do we make the folks in Columbus, Reno, and London feel like they’re part of the team?

I have a few set meetings throughout the week. But I try to not book my week too busy, so I can wander the floors and see and hear what’s going on. I want to be approachable, so people can come up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea.” Recently, an employee asked if we could do more in plus-size women’s apparel. Another person recently suggested doing short videos on the site. You get those ideas only by being out there.

I also make a point to wander through customer service. We have 120 people in that department and try to have a really high service level. When the phone rings, we try to answer immediately. And we try to answer all emails within four hours. It’s a tremendous amount of energy and cost, but it’s why these moms come back every single day. I still get a portion of the customer service email into my inbox. And I spend time reading through our responses.

I do a companywide meeting every Tuesday at 4 p.m., which I’ve done since the company’s start. I canceled it maybe twice in the past two years, and there was a revolt. Sometimes I feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over again, but it’s an opportunity to fill everyone in on what’s going on. It also allows us to address little issues every week as opposed to waiting for the quarterly meeting, where it turns into a big issue. One recent example was transportation. The city took the buses off our street for a construction project, and so employees were rightfully concerned. It was a high-anxiety item. We put in a shuttle bus that takes people to public transportation, back and forth.

These days, I’m most interested in the details around the customer experience, which spans all these different areas. I pick the area–tech, merchandising, shipping–where I feel like we’ve got to get calibrated or make progress. This way, my teams know I think it’s important and we really have to go after it. I have a 15-minute check-in with my COO, Bob Spieth, at 5 p.m. every day. At 5:30, I meet with Maureen Shea, who runs our studio and customer service, to go over the images on the site for the next day.

We certainly spend money on marketing, but I don’t spend a lot of time doing PR. Success is not seeing my name in the newspaper. It’s delivering great products and being able to go to a birthday party with my daughter and say, “I work at Zulily,” and parents telling me, “I love it! I just got a pair of boots for my daughter there.” That gets me excited.

I work from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. three days a week with the door closed, getting caught up on email or putting together a presentation. I try to use the site every day, whether it’s on my phone or on my computer. I buy things for my kids and wife, but I also rate the images and events. There’s a way to do that internally, so every employee can give an event feedback. I spend a lot of time doing that–this way, the studio team, whether it’s in Columbus or London, can see what I like and don’t like.

The idea of a vacation day in the early days of the business was comical. It didn’t happen. That’s changed. My wife is Irish, and so we like to go to Ireland in the summer. She took the kids over for almost a month last August. I spent 10 days there off the grid. My cell does not work where her parents live, so I had to drive 20 minutes and stand outside the library in this little village to sync my email and see what was going on. It stressed me out at first, but then I started to relax.

On Fridays, I leave by 5 o’clock to go out for dinner with the kids. They get to pick where. On Saturdays, I’m pretty good, not great, at trying not to work. I will take my son to the park, or we’ll wash the car or go bike riding. I’ve actually gotten better about not being attached to my phone over the weekend. That makes my wife happy, and it’s been good for the team as well. Lori Twomey, our chief merchant, once admitted that getting emails I’d sent in the middle of the night or over the weekend gave her anxiety, because she felt pressure to respond.

That was never my intent–it was just a great focus time for me. But as CEO, you have to realize the impact your actions have emotionally on people. So I try to be more conscious. And I don’t send emails at 2 a.m.

6 Steps for Getting Fred Wilson’s Money

Hundreds–perhaps thousands–of entrepreneurs have sat down across the table from Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson to ask for money. Most have failed. Those who have succeeded–including Rob Kalin of Etsy, David Karp or Tumblr, and Ben Milne of Dwolla–obviously did a few things right.

In a candid conversation with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Wilson, the founder of one of New York City’s most prolific VC firms, offered a few tips to start-up founders looking to raise early capital.

Step 1: Make a bold or audacious statement to open the meeting. Wilson says the best pitches open with a “hook and reel ’em in” method. For example, Jeff Lawson, the founder of Twilio, walked in to a meeting with Wilson and announced: “I’m taking the entire world of telephony and reduced it to five API calls.” Wilson was floored. “I said, ‘No way, I couldn’t believe that.’ So hook the person, and then real them in.”

Step 2: Don’t go through your back story. It’s great that your business idea was inspired by growing up on the coast of Maine and going lobster fishing with your grandfather–but Fred Wilson just doesn’t care. “Going through a long back story is a bad idea,” Wilson says. Get right to the heart of the business idea, and why Wilson should care about it.

Step 3: Condense your entire presentation to one slide. If you’re like most entrepreneurs raising cash, you’ve probably spent weeks building and perfecting your investment deck, which is probably between 20 to 40 slides. That’s great, but Wilson says it’s a trap, because you end up rushing through the presentation and overwhelming investors with information. Keep it as simple as possible.

Step 4: Show the product, then tell them about it. Too many entrepreneurs get in front of Wilson and talk about the product for 20 to 30 minutes, and only then actually show it. What if you don’t have the product yet? Well, best of luck: “We made a bunch of investments in companies that didn’t have a product, some worked, but more often than not those are our least performing,” Wilson says.

Step 5: Don’t let Wilson push you around. When Fred Wilson first met with David Karp of Tumblr, Wilson asked Karp if Tumblr should have a section for comments. Wilson persisted, but Karp ultimately said no, arguing, “comments suck!” At that point, Wilson realized Karp may be on to something. “I stopped arguing with him,” Wilson recalls. “The best entrepreneurs will listen to you, but they won’t take orders from you.”

Step 6: It’s OK to be a little crazy. But don’t be a pyschopath. According to Fred Wilson, the best foudners are, well, a little bit off. Founders who are a little bit crazy can “see things differently than other people see them and have the courage to act on ideas.” But there’s a fine line. “I think crazy is a compliment…but you don’t want a psychopath.”

9 Tips for Hiring This Year’s Top Grads

Plenty has been written about how tough it is for a college grad to make use of a college degree these days. With more than 1.5 million bachelors degrees granted every year, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, there’s no shortage of graduates coming into the job market in the next couple of months.

While certainly degrees in science, technology, and healthcare will make getting a job easier, I would strongly disagree with Marc Andreessen that English, history, theater, and liberal arts graduates will all be relegated to being shoe salesmen and baristas.

In fact for most companies all of these young adults have energy, knowledge, and skills that can be quite useful in many aspects of business, provided the students are ready to prove themselves willing and worthy. Most have similar experience so it can be challenging to identify the A-players. Here are some tips for selecting those who will bring great value to your organization. These tips also give insight for the graduates themselves to stand out, so by all means pass this along to your favorite 2013 job hopeful.

Look for the following:

On the Resume: Writing is a critical skill today and the résumé is the first opportunity to see what these graduates are capable of. Look past the minimal experience and watch for strong communication skills like these:


Most recent graduate résumés today have a couple of internships and a summer job or two listed. Bartending at Lefty’s and camp counselor at Winnemucca won’t reveal a winner, but if the graduate finds a way to communicate a creative through-line of how and why they made certain academic and working choices, you might have a worthy prospect.


Some graduate résumés look like a big collage of meaningless titles and actions. Instead of looking for volume, find the grads that carefully select wording with meaning and substance. Less can be more if it shows real experience and the ability to promote it in a compelling manner.


Lot’s of grads show earnest in getting summer jobs, but look a little more carefully and you’ll see that some have found interesting ways to go farther afield to find something with real opportunity. Grads who have traveled to foreign lands show they can successfully adapt in new environments, making them a little less fearful while transitioning into the working world.

In the Interview: This time allows you to see how the new grads present themselves and if they can think on their feet. Look for graduates that easily exude strong tendencies like these:


It’s rare, but once in a while, even a young millennial thinks about other people first. A-Players with real potential are already asking themselves what they can do for the company rather than trying to figure out what the company will do for them.


It’s expected that young new hires won’t have a ton of experience. But they won’t gain knowledge fast in your company if they wait for everyone to teach them. Look for grads that find ways to learn outside your onboarding process. Give bonus points for those that proactively drive the learning curve.


Ambition is great, and not all jobs require a lengthy dues paying process, but grads with unrealistic expectations or snooty attitudes about their worth will disrupt the office environment. Watch for grads that recognize it takes real time and effort to prove themselves and understand that the best jobs are worth working for.

At the Final Selection: There’s a great trend in trying out potential new employees by giving them low paying projects over a week or two. With the abundance of grads, this process will benefit both the grads and employers with real try-before-you-buy experience. Watch for these valuable traits.


It’s not too early to determine if you have an amazing boss in the making. Watch to see if they can rally people around them and garner respect from day one. It’s a tough task for newbie youngsters but all the more reason to reward them if they succeed.

Teachable Spirit

Many graduates just starting out are hyper-concerned about proving themselves. Watch for those that have enough self-confidence to be open learners and will openly recognize and accept their ignorance. They should demonstrate they can reflect on their experiences, learn from them and apply the lessons quickly with minimal drama.


The sure sign that new amazing employees are in the works is their ability to step up, take on tasks and hold themselves accountable without micromanagement. Make sure there are opportunities for prospective hires to sink or swim on their own, so you can spot the winners easily.

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6 Ways to Be Successful and Happy

What if the key to becoming successful and happy is to quit trying to be either? Would that throw a wrench into your career goals? Make a mess of your life plans? If so, then you need to read this. 

Here’s the thing. Never before have there been so many people spending so much time searching for the secrets to a successful career and a happy life. Which is really a shame because they’re not going to find either, at least not that way.

There are lots of reasons why that is, but the most glaringly obvious one is that nobody ever got anywhere by doing what everyone else is doing.

Think about it. The world has never been more competitive. If you want to have a fulfilling career and live a good life, you’ve got to get ahead of the competition. The only way to do that is to do things differently, to find your own unique path that works for you.

Here are six ways to do that, to become successful and happy.

Build real relationships. What a novel concept, right? While everyone else is wasting their time developing their personal brands and building huge online networks, get out and spend time with real people in the real world. One-on-one in real time. That’s the only place you’ll find real opportunity and friendship. And that’s where success and happiness comes from. No kidding.

Groom yourself. Want to know how great companies that churn out hundreds of future CEOs develop their talent? They identify and recruit up-and-comers and then groom them by moving them around into different areas and situations. That’s how they learn a broad range of skills. Experience. Get out in the world. Try different things. Get your hands dirty. That’s how you’ll find opportunity and figure out what makes you happy.

Do nothing. So much of life is out of our control. We never seem to have enough information to solve tough problems and make important decisions. When you need to gain some perspective, resist the urge to seek out more information. Turn off all the sources of communication, all the noise that distracts you. Just be quiet and listen to your own inner thoughts. Don’t judge them; just listen. The answers to life’s most difficult challenges are always there.

Work for a great company. Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur these days. Here’s a novel thought. Go work for a great company. Learn from people smarter, more accomplished, more experienced than you. Learn from the pros. Find a mentor or two. Learn how business works in the real world. Figure out how you can help that company be even better. What you can bring to the party that really matters and nobody else is doing. If you’re meant to be an entrepreneur, an opportunity will come to you. And you’ll be ready for it.

Do one thing at a time. Everyone’s so distracted with social media and all their slash jobs these days, try picking one thing you really want to do and just get it done. Prioritize. It’ll provide a sense of accomplishment and control. It’ll help you build confidence. Even if it fails, you’ll learn from the experience. And you’ll gain strength from knowing that failure didn’t kill you. That will make you more resilient and give you courage to tackle bigger things.

Be good to yourself. Most people who want a lot out of life are their own worst enemy. They take themselves too seriously. Judge themselves too harshly. Expect too much out of themselves and others. If you can learn to let go of all your expectations, quit trying so hard to get somewhere, you’ll learn that just being you, present in this moment, is all that matters. That’s what life is all about. And that’s when all good things will come to you. Success, happiness, everything.

Exclusive: Tim Hortons investor agitates for buybacks, new strategy

Canadian coffee-and-donut chain Tim Hortons Inc is under pressure from one of its top investors to buy back a large chunk of its shares, pare back in the United States and get more money out of its real estate assets, according to documents seen by Reuters and two sources familiar with the matter on Tuesday.

Hedge fund Highfields Capital, which owns about 1.5 percent of the company, wants Tim Hortons to borrow $3.4 billion to buy back more than one-third of its outstanding shares at $59 apiece, the documents show.

The investor also wants Tim Hortons to spin off or sell its distribution business and create a real estate investment trust to house its real estate assets, according to the documents.

The documents include correspondence between Tim Hortons and Highfields executives since March and a Highfields presentation to the restaurant chain.

Tim Hortons had a market value of $8.3 billion. It is working with Citigroup Inc and RBC Capital Markets as strategic advisers, the documents show.

A spokeswoman for Highfields declined to comment on the matter, except to note that the firm did not provide a copy of the documents to Reuters. Tim Hortons did not immediately respond to requests for comment. RBC and Citigroup declined to comment.

(Reporting By Lauren Tara LaCapra, Jessica Toonkel and Olivia Oran; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Paritosh Bansal, Gary Hill)

ASIA MARKETS: Asian Markets Retreat As Strong Yen Weighs Japan

Asian markets slipped Wednesday ahead of key manufacturing data from China, with Japanese stocks weighed by a stronger yen and Australian shares pulling back from near five-year highs as investors locked in recent gains in banks.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average fell 0.3%, and the broader Topix index lost 0.5%. Australia’s SP/ASX 200 fell 0.5%, retreating a day after the benchmark ended at its highest level since June 2008.

Trading volumes were thin, with several regional markets closed for Labor Day or other local holidays — including in China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Investors were also cautious ahead key central-bank meetings this week.

“It certainly feels like there is a ‘calm before the storm’ effect at the moment. The [European Central Bank] and the [Federal Open Market Committee] will both sit down this week and nut out cash rates and policy positions alike, and this will drive the May markets,” said IG Markets strategist Evan Lucas.

The FOMC was due to announce its monetary policy decision later Wednesday, while the ECB was widely expected to cut its benchmark interest rate by a quarter-point to a record low of 0.5%.

The drops in Tokyo and Sydney came even as the SP 500 Index (SPX) ended at a record level for a second straight day overnight in the U.S, aided by corporate earnings.

Among the major movers in Tokyo, shares of Sharp Corp. (SHCAY) tumbled 4.1% after the Nikkei newspaper reported the company may suffer a bigger net loss than it had forecast for the last financial year ended March 31.

Several other exporters also retreated as the U.S. dollar (USDJPY) slipped further against the yen to Yen97.13 from the Yen97.48 level seen late Tuesday in U.S. trading.

Shares of Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) lost 1.5% and Canon Inc. (CAJ) gave up 1.3%.

Airline stocks retreated on worries about the financial impact from the grounding of the Boeing Dreamliner jet fleet, with Japan Airlines Co. losing 4.8%, and ANA Holdings Co. (ALNPY) shedding 1.4%.

The drop came, even as ANA reported a 53% jump in annual profits Tuesday, while Japan Airlines posted a better-than-forecast annual profit of Yen171.67 billion ($1.767 billion) after nearly three years in bankruptcy.

Daihatsu Motor Co. (7262.TO) shed 0.5% following a Nikkei newspaper report that the company has missed out on sales of 17,000 units of a new compact car due to delays by the Indonesian government.

In Sydney, meanwhile, banks retreated a day after strong results from Australia New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. (ANZBY) pushed the market sharply higher.

ANZ shares were down 0.4%, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBAUY) gave up 1.1%.

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Freeport Indonesia Contractors Hit By Strike

PT Freeport Indonesia said Wednesday workers at three of its contractors have gone on strike, the latest in a series of labor disruptions to hit the mining company in recent years.

The Indonesian unit of the Freeport-McMoran Copper Gold Inc. (FCX) said machinery-repair services workers at PT Jasti Pravita, PT Osato Seike and PT Srikandi Mitra Karya went on strike after failing to reach an agreement with their employers on a pay increase.

“The strike for sure can slow down [Freeport Indonesia’s] operations, but we don’t expect any direct impact on our mining and production,” the company said in a news release.

It didn’t say how many workers were on strike.

Virgo Salossa, the leader of one of the three labor unions taking part in the strike, told Dow Jones Newswires that between 1,000 and 1,200 workers have been striking since Tuesday and that the work stoppage could last until the end of May.

There are 23,000 people working at Freeport Indonesia’s Grasberg mine, the world’s largest for both copper and gold. It is located in Papua.

write to I Made Sentana at and Deden Sudrajat at

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MARKET COMMENT: S&P/ASX 200 Stays Down After China PMI

Australia’s SP/ASX 200 is down 0.6% at 5161.1, maintaining weakness after China’s official manufacturing PMI fell to 50.6 in April versus the 50.9 consensus of economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires. Resources stocks remain in the red as the continuing slow pace of expansion leads investors to expect commodity prices to stay weak. BHP (BHP.AU), Rio Tinto (RIO.AU), Newcrest (NCM.AU), Fortescue (FMG.AU) are down 1.3%-1.8%. Traders are watching to see whether the index closes Wednesday below the 5163.8 Mar. 12 peak. A weaker close may suggest to some that Tuesday’s rise to a 4 1/2 year high 5195.1 was a false break of technical resistance. (

Write to Shani Raja at

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